Monday, March 15, 2021

Vox Popoli: You will NOT talk back

The media is systematically eliminating the ability to comment on their relentless propaganda:

As of Feb. 1, we are removing comments from most of Comments will still be available on Sports stories and our Inquirer Live events, and there will be other ways for people to engage with our journalism and our journalists, including our letters section, social media channels and other features that our readers have become accustomed to, as well as new capabilities that we’re developing.

Commenting on was long ago hijacked by a small group of trolls who traffic in racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This group comprises a tiny fraction of the audience. But its impact is disproportionate and enduring.

It’s not just Inquirer staff who are disaffected by the comments on many stories. We routinely hear from members of our community that the comments are alienating and detract from the journalism we publish.

Only about 2 percent of visitors read comments, and an even smaller percentage post them. Most of our readers will not miss the comments.

For more than a decade, we’ve tried to improve the commenting climate on our sites. The goal has been to create a forum for a civil, open exchange of ideas where readers could offer relevant feedback and criticism of our work.

Over the years, we’ve invested in several methods to try and accomplish this. None of it has worked. The comments at the bottom of far too many stories are toxic, and this has accelerated due to the mounting extremism and election denialism polluting the national discourse. You deserve better than that.

What's telling about this is that large media organizations like the Inquirer could easily institute a system that would prevent trolling. For example, they could permit only actual subscribers to the physical newspaper to comment, just to suggest one of many possible solutions. Their real objection, of course, was their inability to control the comment narrative.

This isn't to say that the constant trolling and hasbara isn't a legitimate problem. It is a problem, though an easily solvable one. But the media has never been interested in anyone actually being able to talk back to them.

Regardless, this won't affect their traffic at all. Commenters vastly overestimate their own significance, as they tend to make up less than one percent of the readership of any given Internet site. That's why I find it amusing whenever I receive an email informing me that I should be concerned that some would-be commenter finds it impossible to leave his very important opinions here for our edification.